Rethink What It Means To Be A Greenhouse Grower, Konjoian Says

Peter Konjoian
Peter Konjoian

During the first decade of my life, our three-generation household was supported by truck farming. My grandfather, father and mother, two brothers and I cultivated several acres of row crops. My father also worked outside the farm as a meat cutter. He built his first greenhouse and convinced his father-in-law that the family farm needed to take another direction. He began growing bedding plants and sold retail directly from the greenhouse during my second decade.

While we de-emphasized the farm to concentrate on the flowers, it provided me with a wonderful opportunity to run the farm as a means to work my way through undergraduate school at the University of New Hampshire. I have the fondest memories of that period of my life and career, having the opportunity to manage the farm, hire neighborhood kids to work with me, purchase supplies and learn how to manage finances.

In the ‘80s, my third decade focused on expanding the greenhouse operation, enjoying double digit annual growth with a belief of unlimited potential. The fourth decade brought a slow but steady decline as greenhouse production ramped up coast to coast, to the point of oversupply. By the end of our fifth decade, we decided to close the family greenhouse business, as did many other operations in our industry.

From Flowers Back to Food

Since closing the family range, I have renovated a Quonset house for my research and consulting practice. If you had told me in the ‘80s that in 2014, 90 percent of my research would focus on food crops and not ornamentals, I’d have called you crazy. But here I find myself completely immersed in farming again.

To be fair, during these decades I am repeatedly on record in my presentations and articles with the following statement: “If one could make a living farming in New England, I’d still be a farmer.”
So here I am, traveling this exciting path from flowers to food. Only now, we can agree that the more accurate reference is from food to flowers back to food. For me and my family, it’s more a case of closing a circle and returning to one’s roots. My favorite line from The Hobbit, “There and back again,” sums things up perfectly.

Find Your Place In The New Market Place

It’s easy for agricultural sectors to feel a sense of ownership, a sense of territoriality when it comes to others venturing from one sector into another. Greenhouse flower growers felt that farmers who threw greenhouses up and entered the local marketplace with lower prices were infringing on their turf.

Greenhouse vegetable growers feel that flower growers who are shifting into vegetables should stay away. I once referenced my local apple orchard’s venture into fall garden mums by stating that if they can sell mums, why can’t I sell apples?

I argue that today, diversification assures the best chance for growth and profitability. Farm stands and garden centers are morphing into identical retail outlets. Vegetables, flowers, nursery stock, baked goods — you name it and a progressive business is going to consider it in its product mix.

Consider how OFA and ANLA recently merged to bring greenhouse and nursery together under one association, AmericanHort. A question I’ve asked fellow growers in recent years is, “Are you a floriculturist or horticulturist?”

Several recent OFA Short Course programs have included seminar tracks on greenhouse vegetable production. Will it take much longer for AmericanHort and vegetable growers to come together? This year’s AmericanHort Cultivate‘14 (formerly OFA Short Course) seminar program will continue offering a track on vegetable production.

Is The Shift To Food Production Sustainable?

What’s fueling this shift in consumer demand from flowers to food? Is it real; is it going to last? My answer is yes, because we’re going to need more food to feed more people. If someone is hungry, they’re going to be more interested in food than flowers.

I also point to our younger generations of consumers and growers. A tip of my cap to young adults who are saying they want more of their food to be locally grown, fresh and sustainably produced. A colleague recently used the word locovores in a discussion with me to describe these individuals’ preference for locally sourced food. I like the word and what it brings to this debate.

These young adults are supporting farmers’ markets, which has resulted in unprecedented growth of this distribution sector nationally. Farmers’ markets are exploding coast to coast. How long until we invite this group into our AmericanHort family? I think not long at all.

I’ll slap an exclamation point on the conversation with this final thought: Medical marijuana legalization is sweeping over the country. As soon as permits and licensing protocols are established, I have an indoor urban agriculture project chomping at the bit to shift gear into this crop. So, shifting from flowers to food to fun may very well become an option for growers in the future.

As Kurt Schilling once said during the Red Sox’ run to the World Series in 2004, “Why not us?”

A Change In Crop Can Mean A Change In Growing Systems

As growers or ornamental crops add vegetables to their greenhouse rotations, some aspects of production remain the same while others bring new challenges. One of my favorite comments when discussing the different sectors of agriculture is, “A plant’s a plant.” Most crops require very similar inputs: water, fertilizer, temperature, insect and disease management and so on. But the big difference between ornamental and food crops is food safety.

Food safety laws and regulations are evolving continuously in order to assure consumers that their food is produced by farmers and handled by supply chain participants using accepted protocols and caution. Minimizing the entry of plant and animal pathogens that cause human health problems into the food chain is critical when feeding as many people as currently inhabit our planet.

Growers of ornamental crops face the challenge of learning new practices in order to comply with current food safety laws. We also must stay current when government regulations change. Similar to maintaining our pesticide applicator licenses, by law we must make a commitment to protect the safety of our food chain. To this end, educational conferences such as AmericanHort Cultivate‘14 will provide growers with the information we need to learn, understand and comply with current and future regulations.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

More From Greenhouse Grower's GROW...
CareerUp

December 27, 2017

How CareerUp Helps Young Professionals Level-Up

The mission of CareerUp is to equip young professionals with the skills to maximize their career potential.

Read More
Nathan-Nordstedt-in-the-Greenhouse-feature

December 26, 2017

Richard T. Meister Scholarship Winner Encourages Industry to Offer Young People New Opportunities

This year’s scholarship winner says young people need experiences that challenge them and allow for creativity and innovation.

Read More
GROW

December 21, 2017

Greenhouse Grower’s GROW Initiative: How You Made a Difference in 2017

To create a competitive advantage, you must consistently experiment with and learn from new ideas. Greenhouse Grower’s GROW initiative provides you with cutting-edge ideas and actionable advice that results in greater profits in everyone’s pocket.

Read More
Latest Stories
CareerUp

December 27, 2017

How CareerUp Helps Young Professionals Level-Up

The mission of CareerUp is to equip young professionals with the skills to maximize their career potential.

Read More
Nathan-Nordstedt-in-the-Greenhouse-feature

December 26, 2017

Richard T. Meister Scholarship Winner Encourages Indust…

This year’s scholarship winner says young people need experiences that challenge them and allow for creativity and innovation.

Read More
GROW

December 21, 2017

Greenhouse Grower’s GROW Initiative: How You Made…

To create a competitive advantage, you must consistently experiment with and learn from new ideas. Greenhouse Grower’s GROW initiative provides you with cutting-edge ideas and actionable advice that results in greater profits in everyone’s pocket.

Read More

December 15, 2017

Your AFE Donations Will Be Matched Between Now and the …

Between now and December 1, any donations made to the American Floral Endowment will be matched up to $20,000.

Read More
HortScholars

December 8, 2017

HortScholars Program Now Accepting Applications for 201…

Do you know any college students currently in a horticulture-related program? This unique program gives them a chance to connect with industry leaders and make new connections at Cultivate.

Read More
GROW-Summit-2017-Group-Photo

December 5, 2017

GROW Summit 2017 Tackles Marketing and Business Managem…

This year’s think-tank style event brought together leaders from across the green industry to deliberate on topics such as disruptive marketing, cost accounting, and Millennials, to name a few.

Read More
Photo-with-Endless-Summer-Hydrangea

November 27, 2017

Why It’s Important to Get to Know Consumers at th…

One way to learn about consumer behavior is to get boots on the ground and engage with them.

Read More
Seed-Your-Future-feature

November 9, 2017

Dümmen Orange Throws Support Behind Seed Your Future In…

Dümmen Orange has announced it will pledge $450,000 over the next three years to Seed Your Future, the non-profit organization whose mission is to promote horticulture in the U.S. and inspire people to pursue careers working with plants.

Read More

November 1, 2017

Thanks to the 2018 GROW Sponsors

There are a number of industry organizations that help make Greenhouse Grower’s GROW Initiative a success.

Read More
Marshall Dirks, Proven Winners

October 28, 2017

5 Rules for Creating a Lifetime of Outdoor Garden Memor…

Many customers are time starved. Their most important asset is time, not money, so be realistic about the investment of both when they are buying plants.

Read More
Living Umbrellas

October 25, 2017

Why Living Umbrellas May Have a Bright Future

Sometimes innovation strikes by chance. Such was the case with David Tilley, developer of the “Living Umbrella.”

Read More
Luxflora Paris Trip

October 20, 2017

Luxflora Paris Trip Offers Insights on Trends Shaping H…

Each year, Luxflora hosts an international trip that allows participants to gain insights on trends and gather inspiration that ultimately will shape and support our industry in many ways. This year’s event took the group to Maison & Objet and Design Week in the City of Lights – Paris, France.

Read More
Steve Garvey, Dallas Johnson Greenhouses

September 23, 2017

Producing Quality Plants in the Greenhouse Starts From …

It's common for growers to make mistakes. What you learn from those mistakes is what sets you apart as a grower and where quality starts.

Read More
Quality in the Greenhouse

September 21, 2017

Two Head Growers and a Retail Live Goods Buyer Talk Bes…

Ultimately, the quality of the plants you grow will be responsible for the success of the consumer, and consumer success will ideally translate to repeat sales. That’s why quality must be a top priority for all growers, according to Brad Julian, a Live Goods Buyer for Lowe’s Home Improvement, and Head Growers Dennis Crum of Four Star Greenhouse and Joe Moore of Lucas Greenhouses.

Read More
Jan Gulley, Gulley Greenhouses

August 25, 2017

Why It’s Important to Educate and Engage the New Hortic…

Young adults entering the workforce have more professional choices than ever before, and many want to work in environments in which their work has a clear purpose for both the organization and society at large.

Read More
Seed Your Future feature

July 26, 2017

Seed Your Future Aims to Inspire Careers in Plants

Who will be the next generation of horticulturists? The answer lies in helping to change the perception of horticulture and using contemporary new language to tell our stories.

Read More
Albert Grimm, Jefferys Greenhouses

July 8, 2017

How You Can Use Lifestyle Marketing to Sell Plants

Should we be trying to educate consumers into loving what we like to produce, or should we allow consumers to educate us into producing what they love?

Read More
Metrolina Make a Wish Greenhouse

July 7, 2017

Metrolina Builds, Decorates Greenhouse for Young Cancer…

When Michael VanWingerden and his wife Courtney heard through their work with the Make-A-Wish foundation that 11-year-old Jason wanted a greenhouse to grow vegetables in, they knew Metrolina Greenhouses could help.

Read More